CSE NI: We need to prevent culture of ‘disbelief’ and ‘blame’
A total of 613 sexual offences recorded against 12-17 year olds took place in Northern Ireland between 2010 and 2011, research from Barnardo’s NI shows.
Professor Jenny Pearce, Director of the International Centre for the Study of Sexually Exploited and Trafficked Young People at Bedfordshire University, said it was unacceptable that to qualify as a social worker did not currently require having any basic training in dealing with child sexual exploitation.
Speaking at the recent NIASW/ BASPCAN CSE conference, Professor Pearce said it was vital to avoid a culture of fear and demonisation of teenagers, who were often blamed for the situation they find themselves in.
In order to forge relationships professionals need to think seriously about the quality of services provided for young people, she said, and ensure that services for them were flexible and nurturing.
"Is scheduling a meeting at 9am on a Monday for a difficult to engage young person a good idea?" she said.
"Victims must also be protected and supported during the prosecution process, and it must not be an opportunity to re-victimise them."
One of the roles of professionals is to educate children of the danger of "normalised" sexual violence in the face of sexualised images of women in the media and young people increasingly distributing and even creating such images themselves.
Developing preventative work can save money in the long term, Professor Pearce said, which was an area in which schools could help.
"Even a lollipop lady or man should see who is hanging around the school gates and act accordingly. The journey to and from school is can be as important as school itself."
Young people also need to see engagement works. Professor Pearce highlighted quotes from young people who felt let down by the system. One said: 'I've been raped 3 times. I put so much effort in on these cases. He still walks around town’. Another claimed "If a case gets dropped again... If I get raped again I’m just not going to bother’ [reporting it]".
Professor Pearce called for a “conceptual shift”, from just safeguarding younger children inside the home to safeguarding young people outside the home as well. “Young people are the most powerful voice in this issue and this needs to be young people led”, she said.